WH pushes jobs for mentally disabled

The Obama administration wants to make it easier for people with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems to find jobs.

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) on Tuesday announced a new effort to help people who struggle with mental health problems find and keep jobs, advance in their companies and earn pay raises.

The NIDRR's Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) has been commissioned to study the issue and find ways to solve the problems mentally disabled people face when it comes to their job prospects.

"Mental illness has a pronounced negative effect on employment," the agency said.

The proposed priority, which will be published in Wednesday's edition of the Federal Register, would direct the research center to examine the employment challenges people with mental health problems face. [READ THE PROPOSED RULE.]

"Further research is needed in order to improve employment outcomes of individuals with psychiatric disabilities and to address the barriers they face in obtaining, retaining, and advancing in meaningful competitive employment," the NIDRR wrote.

The NIDRR said one in five adults has suffered from some sort of mental illness, although not all of these people have had serious problems that would impair their employment prospects.

The NIDRR said only 17 percent of people who receive government assistance for a more serious mental illness are employed. The agency said this is because people with mental health issues are often discriminated against due to the "stigma" surrounding them. But they also struggle to find and keep jobs because of substance abuse problems and issues with medication they may take to treat their conditions, which contributes to poor employment outcomes.

"Individuals with mental illness represent the largest disability group receiving public income support and they are least likely to achieve successful employment outcomes after vocational rehabilitation," the agency wrote.

In fact, nearly one in four people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, the agency said, a number that jumped 38 percent between 1996 and 2009.

But even those who find employment often have difficulties keeping their jobs or rising higher than entry-level positions, according to the NIDRR.

"For those individuals with mental illness who are employed, mental illness is associated with decreased productivity and job retention," the agency wrote.

The agency will examine the "supported employment" system and look for ways to improve the process by which the government assists mentally disabled people find and maintain jobs.

"Supported employment has been demonstrated to be an effective intervention and has improved employment outcomes for individuals with mental illness," the agency wrote.

"However, supported employment frequently results in only part-time employment, and earnings are typically insufficient to maintain self-sufficiency," it added.